Posted on Friday, August 13th, 2010 by Adam Quigley
In 15 to 20 years from now, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will be seen as the defining movie of its respective generation, and if it isn’t, it should be. No movie has better encapsulated and satirized the interests and temperaments of contemporary youth, and no future movie is likely to surpass it.
With the exception of those blindly dismissing the film as “hipster” (all of whom are apparently unaware that the hipster mentality is a source of constant ridicule throughout the film), the under-30 crowd is going to adore this movie. The box office may not reflect it now, but its status as cult classic will manifest itself heavily down the line, when time has proven the film to be uniquely representative of youths from the late ’90s and aughts, whose lives have been so heavily influenced by video games, movies, television, music, comics and the internet. Future generations will begin to discover the film, and delight in the nostalgia-factor of a movie so married to its time—not unlike The Goonies, which has become a fan-favorite of the very generation that Scott Pilgrim depicts. (Strange how that works; the cultural identity of today’s generation is largely defined by cultural developments of previous generations. Ah, cyclicality.)
It doesn’t matter if older critics like The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt don’t get it, because they’re from a generation that’s largely incapable of “getting it”. That’s not a knock against the 40 and older folk—it’s simply a cultural incompatability, as proven by nearly every single negative review of the film. (No, seriously, check their ages. The majority of them are over 40.)
When Honeycutt criticizes the film (and, strangely, Michael Cera) for having a protagonist that “sort of drifts, not really attached to any idea or goal other than winning the heart of [a girl],” he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s paying a compliment to both Cera and co-writer/director Edgar Wright, both of whom faithfully maintain the essence of the source material’s titular role. Scott Pilgrim is a peculiar sort of hero, one who goes through life with a happy-go-lucky obliviousness and general indifference towards that which isn’t of immediate interest to him, and that’s exactly what makes him such a compelling, flawed, uniquely modern protagonist.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is so specific to a certain set of cultural trends, and so reflective of the zeitgeist of today’s 20-something crowd, that only the rare few aged, culturally-connected moviegoers will find themselves capable of watching the film without rolling their eyes or furrowing their brow or scoffing every time a character explodes into coins.
Some have argued that the stakes of the film are nullified by its refusal to establish any firm rules about the logic or limitiations of its world, but it’s that carefree attitude that frees the movie from the blandness of impossibility and the confines of Hollywood convention. It’s what allows the film to be so fresh and energetic and spontaneous and wonderfully unpredictable in every scene. And where it might pose a problem in another film, Wright keeps Pilgrim anchored with a strong sense of character and heartfelt honesty. Those are the stakes that matter—the characters, and their relationships—not whether or not Pilgrim’s life is at risk, which we already know the answer to regardless of how realistic the film is.
That’s the problem with watching too many movies: the more you watch, the harder it is to be legitimately surprised. Once you know the tropes, you basically have to train yourself to forgive movies for following them. Scott Pilgrim navigates this dilemma by having the built-in assumption that you watch too many movies. You don’t have to forgive the movie for anything, because it winkingly acknowledges and parodies every movie trope it can muster.
The film is able to do this by refusing to adhere to just one genre, opting instead to combine all of them. It’s a comedy-action-adventure-musical-fantasy-romance—and it nails every single one. The movie epitimozes the best that each of its genres has to offer, all the while lovingly poking fun at them, and incorporating an endless array of clever, subtle pop culture references in the mix, from video games (Zelda sound effects galore and 8-bit weaponry) to comic books (extensive use of onscreen text and split screens) to action movies (slow motion and excessively dramatic/epic imagery) to music (alt rock songs prefaced with dialogue like, “We’re here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff!”). Could media-obsessed youths possibly ask for a better movie offering?
Even if you don’t pick up on all of the geeky contributions to the film, that doesn’t prohibit you from enjoying it. Those details are there to be appreciated by those who recognize them, but rarely do they overshadow the humor that’s derived from the characters and their interactions with one another. Mostly they act as the backdrop for this world, and since the characters are quick to overlook any of the weirdness surrounding them, a gag you don’t get is sure to be immediately followed by one that you do.
Scott Pilgrim achieves so much, in such a short span of time. Its pace is relentless, yet flawlessly sustained throughout. Wright manages to condense six volumes worth of material from the graphic novels into less than two hours, and the result is the most successful live-action recreation of cartoon sensibilities that’s ever been released. (Eat it, G.I. Joe and Speed Racer.)
Wright shifts the film effortlessly from scene to scene, doing so through dizzyingly cleverly transitions that help to give it a momentum that never lets up. In a single interaction of dialogue, the location can change upwards of three times, and you might not even realize it. Add to that, Wright’s ability to convincingly literalize outlandish comic book visuals is unrivaled, and by not letting the absurdity of the sequences get in the way of their ferocity, he delivers some of the most cinematically satisfying (and hugely varied) action I’ve seen in years.
The action is made even better by it being Michael Cera stuck in the middle of it. Watching him believably engage in badass kung fu battles is surreal to say the least, but they make it work, and it’s a joy to watch.
Cera isn’t just great in the action sequences, either. I know that his casting is one of the main points of contention that audiences have with the film, but he plays the part of Scott Pilgrim to perfection. If ever more proof were needed of his comedic prowess, this film settles the debate once and for all. You can not like the actor all you want—he has a very distinctive tone of voice and set of mannerisms, and if those don’t appeal to you, you will never like him in a movie—but from this point on, let it never be said that he’s not talented.
The rest of the cast is just as excellent, with literally every single actor (there are too many to name) proving their grasp of their roles within seconds of appearing onscreen. The world of Scott Pilgrim is one populated exclusively by great characters, and Wright and his cast do an amazing job bringing that world to the screen.
Equally deserving of praise is the music, which I’m already biased in favor of, since Wright employed a number of my favorite bands/artists to contribute to the soundtrack. With Scott’s lousy band Sex Bob-Omb, Beck captures their supposed shittiness while also maintaining a scruffy charm that keeps the songs legitimately enjoyable to listen to. Broken Social Scene also aid a couple of brief, hilarious punk songs, played in the film by the competing band Crash and the Boys. The best number though goes to Metric, who provide a great pulsating track for Clash at Demonhead, the band headed by Scott’s ex-girlfriend.
It’s understandable that some readers might accuse me of being hyperbolic following our video review of the film, which took place barely an hour after what was essentially its world premiere. But I’ve seen the film three times now, and I love it as much now as I did then, if not more so. How could I not? This is the sort of movie where a major moment of emotional catharsis directly results in a flaming samurai sword emanating from a character’s chest. A movie like that doesn’t come around very often, but when it does, you know you’ve found something special.
Truly, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is that special something. Do the future of cinema a favor: embrace it as such.
/Film Rating: 10 out of 10